I graduated from the magnet program at Montgomery Blair High School 12 years ago, but I have clear memories of seeing, hearing and experiencing the sexually inappropriate behavior described in the March 2 front-page article “Hundreds say renowned teacher harassed girls.”
The article documented that this behavior went on openly and brazenly for multiple decades, with multiple complaints to administrators, seemingly without consequence. In response to allegations from hundreds of alumni, the teacher at the center of this, Eric Walstein, asked, “How can I be the best teacher and be a sexual harasser at the same time?” A variation of this question has been asked countless times in conversations around the #MeToo movement, but it overlooks a simple yet uncomfortable truth: External markers of professional success and inappropriate behavior — sexual or otherwise — are in no way mutually exclusive.
Being an award-winning math teacher, a decorated film producer or an elected official does not serve as proof of innocence against accusations of harassment and abuse, and may in fact create a greater potential for abuse of power. I have been fortunate to know many wonderful educators, in the magnet program and beyond, and I unequivocally believe that the truly “best” teachers are those who support, respect and inspire their students, regardless of awards and recognition, without resorting to sexualization and intimidation.
Moving forward, school administrators should look beyond teachers’ professional accolades and listen to the voices of accusers the first time they speak up — not several decades too late.
Rose Feinberg, Durham, N.C.